Hartmann: Wachsfigurenkabinett

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WORKS: Wachsfigurenkabinett
PERFORMER: Claudia Barainsky, Michelle Breedt, Tom Harper, Michael Kraus, Reinhart Ginzel; Deutsches SO Berlin/Roger Epple
The welcome revival of interest in Karl Amadeus Hartmann has concentrated on his later orchestral works, most of them composed, or at least revised, after the Second World War. But here is an intriguing sample of his early music: Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks) is a collection of five little Zeitopern, conceived in Munich in the Twenties, when Hartmann was very much the young radical in a conservative musical culture. Only one was performed in his lifetime, and the cycle was not seen in its entirety until 1987, when Henze included it in the first Munich Biennale, and arranged for the orchestration to be completed.


The texts for these mini-dramas are topical and satirical – Leben und Sterben des heiligen Teufels is a portrait of Rasputin, Chaplin-Ford-Trott a critique of American culture, Fürwahr..?! a burlesque for two drunks, and so on. The musical tone is dry and detached, with Hindemith as the most obvious model. Speech alternates with song, while jazz and popular song are frequently evoked; the scoring for an ensemble including piano and harmonium is wittily imaginative. Compared with the emotion-laden language of Hartmann’s mature music, including his large-scale opera Simplicius Simplicissimus, it is all determinedly superficial, but still a fascinating insight into where that intense and highly personal musical journey began. Andrew Clements